Lucrece: Paul Goodwin's adaptation of Shakespeare's poetic drama is remarkably resonant in a post-Weinstein era
Lucrece is a meditation on how little our society has grown in its treatment of women since Classical antiquity.
Wracked with grief and seething with anger, the voice of Lucrece echoed across the makeshift amphitheatre at the NCPA Centrestage festival in Mumbai on Sunday, 3 December. The same voice that overthrew the monarchy and helped establish the Roman Republic 2500 years ago resonates most poignantly today, as women continue to be paralysed by the violent acts of men. The Shakespeare Edit's debut production of Lucrece, adapted from the Bard's narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece, is a remarkably potent and necessary piece in light of its current context. The daily onslaught of headlines about the sexual assault of women by more powerful men — from movie moguls and actors to journalists and politicians — provides an effective backdrop for a piece that explores Shakespeare's mythic reworking of an ancient Roman tale.
The piece begins with a drinking wager as Roman soldiers acclaim the virtues of their wives. When Collatine boasts about his famously chaste wife, Lucrece, and her beauty in glowing terms, it arouses the passions of Tarquin, his friend and a scion of the royal family. So, a few nights later, Tarquin — presenting himself as a comrade of Collatine — attacks and rapes Lucrece in her husband's absence. When Collatine returns, Lucrece, dressed in mournful black, names her rapist and kills herself unable to bear the shame of sexual violation and hoping to motivate her husband to seek revenge. However, her body turns into a patriarchal battleground even after her death, as her father and husband argue as to whose loss is greater on claims of "ownership".
Paul Goodwin's edit of Shakespeare's 1855-line long dramatic poem is a meditation on how little our society has grown in its treatment of women since Classical antiquity. It unabashedly exposes the harsh reality of male entitlement and the machinations of patriarchy in modern society, challenging the audience to confront their complicity in maintaining systems which destroy lives. When Lucrece asks Tarquin why he is assaulting her, he replies, "The fault is thine." After all, her purity and vulnerability meant she was asking for it, right? This narrative tragically fits into our society's propensity to blame the victims of such violence for their own suffering.
Goodwin directs a stellar five-member cast, including three Indian actors who handled their very first Shakespeare production with exceptional maturity. The narrator, Meher Mistry, continually holds the audience's attention as the story unfolds, acting as a sort of moral conscience of the piece. Lucy Brigg-Owen gives a strong, nuanced performance as the virtuous Lucrece showing off a great range of emotions with relative ease. It is almost impossible to take your eyes off of her as she delivers impassioned soliloquies internalising her violent experience. Shakespeare's extraordinary psychological acuity helps capture not only the complexity of the victim's grief but also the perpetrator's moral conflict. With crisp diction, Adarsh Gaurav articulates verse after verse describing Tarquin's struggles with himself before he goes into Lucrece's bedroom.
Buoying the strength of the performances and Goodwin’s understated direction, a minimal set and a bleak atmosphere help complement the show's tapestry. On the walls of the hall - refurbished to look like a Roman amphitheatre - hang posters of #MeToo and stories of sexual harassment from The Guardian to NDTV. The lighting is low but adequate, used mostly to highlight parts of the space where the action is taking place. The piece could have benefited from a more intelligent use of music, but that may have gone against the minimalist aesthetic.
Lucrece is a though-provoking adaptation that juxtaposes the ancient Roman tale with a modern context, and it does so without losing the essence and complexity of Shakespeare's original text. The rape of Lucrece became a motor of change in ancient Rome with its transformation from monarchy to republic. Lucrece is not just a compelling theatre production but also a much-needed goad for discussion and change in a post-Weinstein era.
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